Image of a tired nurse

Publish Date: July 20, 2016 in Periop Insider by AORN written by Carina Stanton

Nursing in the twenty-first century requires a new set of tools to go the distance, according to nursing Career Coach Phyllis Quinlan, PhD, RN-BC. “To have the vitality and resilience to practice nursing today, we need to pay attention so our insides match our outsides.”

Quinlan says nurses need to realize that technical skills and knowledge are not enough to truly meet the needs of patients without their well of nursing compassion running dry. “We have done an excellent job of getting technical certifications, championing evidence-based practices and collaborating under shared governance, but this is all outside of the individual nurse.”

Looking Inward

Quinlan says it’s time for nurses to do more introspective soul searching so they can build skills such as emotional intelligence to strengthen positive interactions with patients and positive relationships with coworkers. This emotional intelligence can also be a powerful tool to keep workplace incivility in check.

“Ask yourself how well you are developing relationships with colleagues—are you trying to do everything yourself or are you holding your colleagues accountable to do their fair share?” she asks. “We need to work on our ability to be patient enough to hold our ground and fight the temptation to be an enabler. In the name of good patient care, safety and time management, we tend to dip our toe into enabling behaviors that can sabotage collegial relationships and build our own frustration and resentment toward others we work with.”

Assessing Physical and Emotional Health

Quinlan describes nurses as professional doers for whom caring is deeply intertwined into their energetic makeup. “When you are constantly in a caring or doing mode, it can be depleting, yet nurses may not take the time to realize that their well of compassion gets a little bit lower if they don’t take time to renew themselves,” Quinlan suggests. “Before you know it, you find yourself giving from fumes of a compassionate nature as opposed to giving from a full heart.”

Nurses don’t always honor the fact that we are not made up of a renewable energy source, that we need to check in with ourselves even if we would rather put time into caring for others, she adds. Part of this self-care is recognizing habitual behaviors nurses have developed to endure when they are depleted and acknowledging how these behaviors can harm instead of help.

“Pay more attention in your downtime for more personally renewing activities,” Quinlan advises. “Resist the urge to give too much free time to friends, neighbors or family members if a little ‘me-time’ is needed.”

Building Resilience

Learning how to say “no” to others and “yes” to yourself can be a challenge for nurses who have spent a lifetime putting others first. That’s why Quinlan recommends nurses build personal time into their daily life and monthly calendar of appointments to renew mind, body and spirit in order to maintain a resilient attitude in professional and personal life. Here are her top five “me-time” activities to put on the schedule.

1. Sleep

Caregivers need more sleep than others to process the emotional strains of their day and give their bodies time to physically renew from expended energy. Make a commitment to get a set amount of sleep every day and shift activities that could jeopardize this rest and recovery.

2. Massage

This is as important as getting your flu vaccine and it should be something you make time for monthly. If you get your nails done, pay a little extra to get a 10-minute massage, even just a few minutes of massage is powerfully renewing for the body.

3. Nutrition

Make the healthy food choices you advocate for your patients to make. Look carefully at the way you nourish your body and look for ways to up the nutritional value to keep you from feeling run down, especially with sugars and carbohydrates that can leave you crashing when you need to be at your best for your patients.

4. Attire

Think about how you “tool-up” for the day. Make sure you are mindful of supporting your physical well-being for the demands of your job. If you are on your feet for long periods of time, find supportive stockings for circulation and footwear to support posture. Consider wearing a supportive belt to reduce the risk of secondary injury if you lift or position patients on a regular basis. Think about ergonomics and proper lifting techniques, but also be proactive about reducing the risk of injury before there is a chance for it to occur.

5. Attitude

Recognize the power of a positive attitude in which you are aware of the good things to be grateful for on a daily basis because this can help keep you renewed and maintain an even perspective. Maybe it’s sunny outside and you take a few minutes to soak it up; maybe your favorite co-worker is on your shift today; maybe you got a great parking spot. Positivity can be hard to maintain when you are tired and powering through in endurance mode. When this happens you are not in a state of resilience and you can feel like the world is coming down on you.

6. Emotional Intelligence

Take time to build your knowledge and skills for areas within nursing practice such as emotional intelligence that also support you in your individual growth and well-being. Reading up on strategies and tools for emotional intelligence should be part of developing professional nursing practice, as it’s beneficial in nursing interactions with patients, families, and co-workers.

Start Small

“You can start small with making time in the day for yourself—perhaps you take 10 minutes to read a book or listen to soothing music through your headphones while on break,” Quinlan suggests. “Make a plan at the beginning of each day to schedule at least one activity that is only for you.”

She says nurses may be resistant to make time for themselves. “It can begin with one simple change in thinking, in recognizing a habitual behavior that no longer serves you, in being disciplined to complete one renewing activity per day for only you—the self satisfaction and joy you will feel on the other side is immeasurable.

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